hyperactivity, diet and

This topic is one of more than passing interest to some parents. It would certainly be nice if the cure for attentional or activity level problems in children could be found in simple dietary manipulation.

The substances which are suspected of influencing attention and activity level can be broken down into two main categories:

  • sugar
  • everything else
The influence of sugar has been well studied. There is simply no evidence linking sugar intake to hyperactivity in children. Zip. Sucrose actually has sedative properties in newborns; scientific studies have shown sugar syrup on a nipple calms infant boys during circumcision, yielding significantly less crying during the procedure. This is not to advocate sugary foods willy-nilly for children, because their dental health and nutritional health are important. Just do not look for a cure for a child's fidgety behavior by restricting sugar.

For all the other substances which are said to influence hyperactivity, the jury is still out but do not hold your breath, as they say. These substances are mainly food preservatives or coloring agents; some natural salicylates (relatives of aspirin) in vitamin C containing foods. The possibility that a rare child may truly be affected adversely by such substances cannot be ruled out at this time. There is some evidence for observable effects in a very small percentage of hyperactive children. The evidence is probably best described as weak at this time.

According to the best research available, true hyperactivity is a condition which best responds to medication. Parents who remain convinced about suspected effects of diet on behavior or would like to know for certain if their child does or does not show such effects should talk with their physician about how they might do a formal test of the suspected effect. This would generally involve giving or not giving the suspected agent on certain days, and having someone who does not know whether the substance is given or not (the teacher) rate behavior in a standard way.

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